Sanctuary Groupie: Yoga Animalia Project Blog

Death Discussions: Part One of an Ongoing Series

Happy times with Mr. Ed, Farm Sanctuary, Acton, California

Happy times with Mr. Ed, Farm Sanctuary, Acton, California

January was a challenging month. So many friends died. I almost typed "departed" or "passed away," but I have been trying to not mince words when it comes to death. Our language around death obfuscates, sometimes designed to stave off or mollify the grief we experience or witness others experiencing without actually engaging it.

I reference and reread the below linked article from Elephant Journal writer Ed Preston frequently, because it is a reminder of how important our words in relation to death are, how they can shut down or cultivate connection.

Via Elephant Journal: "Why We Need to Stop Saying, "I'm Sorry For Your Loss"

Preston discusses the language of "loss" in particular, and shares why that concept may not invoke the empathetic connection actually needed. I catch myself typing or saying "I'm sorry for your loss" in many instances, fumbling when I remind myself to engage versus this response ingrained in us, but that fumble reminds me to be present to the suffering the individual may be experiencing. 

It is a presence of mind I have to practice with my own grief as well. I currently have several blog posts in the works to celebrate the lives and mourn the deaths of some of these friends, but my brain is not allowing me to finish them. Earlier in January Mr. Ed, the magnificent Brahman bull with whom I spent many years, was euthanized when his physical pain could no longer be managed. His death did not feel real until just yesterday when Farm Sanctuary finally released a tribute video to him.

In what felt like quick succession, and actually starting on December 30th when part of my Maryland pack, Jesse dog, died, death came to Mr. Ed bull at Farm Sanctuary, Lucia goat of Catskill Animal Sanctuary, Jake goat of New Moon Farm Goat Rescue & Sanctuary, Ogie steer and Vanna goat at Indraloka Animal Sanctuary. There are beautiful tributes to these individuals linked with their name, followed below by portraits I am privileged to have created of these magnificent people. Sharing these portraits helps me process my grief due to the absence of some rather amazing individuals.

I am sure there are more individuals about whose death I have yet to learn just from this last month. However, as I will continue to discuss throughout the life of this project and blog, death is a natural and inevitable, and often frequent, companion in the sanctuary world. It will bring suffering in its wake, but also, with dedicated work and thoughtful support, healing and deeper relationships with the beings around us, even after death.

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. In the meantime, may our dead friends be remembered and our suffering be acknowledged, and may so much joy find you, not despite death, but because it reminds us how beautiful life is.

Jesse, Brewing Good Coffee Company, Odenton, Maryland

Jesse, Brewing Good Coffee Company, Odenton, Maryland

Lucia, Catskill Animal Sanctuary, Saugerties, New York

Lucia, Catskill Animal Sanctuary, Saugerties, New York

Jake, New Moon Farm Goat Rescue & Sanctuary, Arlington, Washington

Jake, New Moon Farm Goat Rescue & Sanctuary, Arlington, Washington

Ogie, Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, Mehoopany, Pennsylvania

Ogie, Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, Mehoopany, Pennsylvania

Vanna goat with her partner in crime Maddie in the rear, Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, Mehoopany, Pennsylvania

Vanna goat with her partner in crime Maddie in the rear, Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, Mehoopany, Pennsylvania

Resident Spotlight: Owen

Yoga Animalia: Bovine - Owen

Kindred Spirits Sanctuary, Ocala, Florida

Your resident spotlight this week focuses on a handsome bovine who resides at Kindred Spirits Sanctuary where I am currently staying. Sometimes I look out my bedroom window and Owen and his herd are casually grazing nearby. My first visit to Kindred was with the intent of photographing Owen specifically for LAIKA magazine. I have had the great privilege to photograph him on many occasions now.

Yoga Animalia: Bovine - Owen, Kindred Spirits Sanctuary, Ocala, Florida

Yoga Animalia: Bovine - Owen, Kindred Spirits Sanctuary, Ocala, Florida

Born on a small beef farm, Owen’s mother likely had a disease or deficiency that led to his eyes improperly developing. Blind at birth, the young calf was seen as a waste of time and money, but rather than shoot him as many would, they contacted Kindred Spirits to take him. This unexpected bout of compassion extended to them allowing Owen to stay with his mother for a month before coming to sanctuary, but sadly did not include them surrendering her. At Kindred Owen has bonded with his small herd, including subsequent generations of calves. He can often be seen gentling and lovingly licking herdmates.

Owen Kindred Spirits Sanctuary Ocala Florida
Betty and Owen

Betty and Owen

Yoga Animalia: Bovine - Owen Kindred Spirits Sanctuary, Ocala, Florida
Brownie and Owen, with wild egret friends taking advantage of what the steers' hooves unearth.

Brownie and Owen, with wild egret friends taking advantage of what the steers' hooves unearth.

Editing, Editing, Editing

Yoga Animalia: Caprine - Jack, Skylands Animal Sanctuary & Rescue, Wantage, New Jersey

Yoga Animalia: Caprine - Jack, Skylands Animal Sanctuary & Rescue, Wantage, New Jersey

A reality of how I edit photos: it makes very little logical sense. I'll confess it. I have found in the past if I am very regimented and work through them methodically, there is a lack of creative juice that I believe dilutes the potency of the individual's portraits. Or maybe I'm just too finicky and need to get the darn photos edited!

So I have been compromising a bit - editing a few from each sanctuary, doing small steps here and there. It very likely is far from the most efficient, but then I come across a photo like this one, demanding immediate full edits. 

I distinctly remember capturing this image because Jack is a goat who most assuredly does not want humans in his space. Patience and luck were the source of this sunset capture: patience to let Jack be Jack and me not to be a totally obnoxious interloper whilst I watched the sun dip lower and lower, and that hefty dose of luck that let it all work in time to catch the sun through the trees.

Sunset and sunrise photos are a particular favorite of mine, and given the opportunity, I love staying at a sanctuary to attempt to capture them. I find it highly amusing that Jack is one of the Skylands residents with whom I managed this feat. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that another one I might have gotten of Grover sheep will be equally as magical. It is hopefully somewhere among the 3400 photos of Skylands residents!

New Year, New Portraits

It is one month into my Winter 2018 at Kindred Spirits Sanctuary in Ocala, Florida. I have been editing, writing, backing up photos, getting to know the Kindred residents a little better, and working with (and learning from) Kindred's on-staff vet, Dr. Dow, including veterinary trips to Full Circle Farm Sanctuary and Rooterville. More new images captured from those visits, and lots of new Kindred photos to come. My current favorite newly edited photo is of young Luna cow from Kindred included below.

Yoga Animalia: Bovine - Luna, Kindred Spirits Sanctuary, Ocala, Florida

Yoga Animalia: Bovine - Luna, Kindred Spirits Sanctuary, Ocala, Florida

Recently I was thinking about my need to write more: to record more of my travels and experiences at the sanctuaries in addition to sharing the resident's stories. It got me thinking about how intensely grateful I am to be part of the sanctuary world, so much so that the term "sanctuary groupie" popped into my head (and I may have been listening to Lana Del Rey's "Groupie Love" at the time :-). Hence the new name for my blog and missives from my travels.

I intend to be much more diligent about newsletters and blog posts in 2018, because after two and a half years of travel, the stories are starting to get jumbled in my wee brain! I am also committed to sharing sneak peaks and exclusives with my Patreon crew, because their monthly patronage has enabled me to start selecting and editing the massive backlog of sanctuary images - 40,000+ to peruse I estimate, from 74 sanctuaries. You can become a patron for as little as a $1 a month and contribute to the expansion of the Yoga Animalia Project.

I look forward to many more sanctuary groupie stories, and to connecting with you all once again in person at festivals across the US. The early 2018 festivals you can find me at:
Jan 28 Southwest Florida Veg Fest
Feb 17 Gainesville Veg Fest
Mar 3 Northeast Florida Veg Fest
Mar 31 Indy Veg Fest
Apr 7 Nashville Veg Fest
Apr 14 Wilmington Veg Fest
More to come!

Love from Florida: Sanctuary Travels from snow to sun

Yoga Animalia: Feline & Bovine - Wax On & Nandi, Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, Mehoopany, Pennsylvania

Yoga Animalia: Feline & Bovine - Wax On & Nandi, Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, Mehoopany, Pennsylvania

Happy Holidays! I recently visited United Poultry Concerns in Machipongo, Virginia on my way south, and I was absolutely delighted to finally spend some time with Karen Davis and the sanctuary residents. The human and avian team at UPC have been creating change for birds for decades, and I am so honored to have visited and photographed at the sanctuary which is a haven for formerly farmed animals amidst one of the most concentrated chicken factory farming regions.

Yoga Animalia: Galline - Rainbow, United Poultry Concerns, Machipongo, Virginia

Yoga Animalia: Galline - Rainbow, United Poultry Concerns, Machipongo, Virginia

I just arrived in Ocala, Florida at Kindred Spirits Sanctuary who are graciously hosting me as I  spend winter editing photos from two-and-a-half years of travel. My goal is to dedicate the entirety of winter to preparing the photos and stories from the 74 sanctuaries I have visited, with the hoped-for goal of getting ready to run a crowdfunding campaign in 2018 to make the Yoga Animalia Book a reality. More details about the book to come!

Yoga Animalia: Bovine - Owen, Kindred Spirits Sanctuary, Ocala, Florida

Yoga Animalia: Bovine - Owen, Kindred Spirits Sanctuary, Ocala, Florida

In the meantime, if you would like to support my art please consider becoming a monthly patron on my Patreon page. Asking for help as an artist is really challenging, but I am attempting to get out of my own way and make it easier to bring my sanctuary portraits into the world. Your support will enable this, and through Patreon, you will get neat bonuses not available anywhere else.

Many thanks for reading, and I hope your holiday season is surrounded by that which makes you happy. I will leave you with a few snow photos of my friends at Indraloka Animal Sanctuary.

May joy find you,

Cameron

Ogie and Mookie in front, PennyLove behind

Ogie and Mookie in front, PennyLove behind

Abhey, Greenie, Daisy, Decha, Galen, LucyLou Goosey, Lucy Goosey, Opie, Whitey, Peep, Bo

Abhey, Greenie, Daisy, Decha, Galen, LucyLou Goosey, Lucy Goosey, Opie, Whitey, Peep, Bo

Quicker, Joe, Whirlee Girlee, Fancy, Hubub

Quicker, Joe, Whirlee Girlee, Fancy, Hubub

Yin, Yang, Nod, Teehee, Lexi

Yin, Yang, Nod, Teehee, Lexi